Featured Artist in Ann Kullberg’s COLOR magazine

I am thrilled to pieces to be the featured artist in the May 2016 issue of Ann Kullberg’s COLOR magazine!  The eight-page article talks about my background, aspirations, and some of my favorite drawing materials, and includes several images of my work.  And just look at my Don’t Take the Bridge on the cover!  Click on the image to order a copy from the publisher; the page also includes a video preview of the issue.

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My thoughts on the coloring-book craze

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A rack of adult coloring books at a local arts and crafts store. Just the front side!

Over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed the huge influx of “adult coloring books” in bookstores, art supply stores, and even supermarket magazine racks.  The books’  linear designs range from simple garden flowers to incredibly intricate mandala patterns.  This type of “coloring” has been noted for a calming, soothing, therapeutic effect, somewhat like meditation or knitting.  It has caught on in rehab facilities and senior centers.

Adult coloring books are still growing in popularity, so sales of markers and colored pencils have skyrocketed, and some artists have successfully self-published their own coloring books.  There is even a new brand of colored pencils made in China and marketed to the coloring-book crowd as much cheaper than the better-known brands, albeit lower in quality.  Since I have published free swatch charts for many popular brands on my website, someone asked if I’m planning to publish one for this new brand, too.  (No, and I’m not going to name the brand here.)

As an artist whose primary medium is colored pencil, I have mixed feelings about this fad.  On the one hand, it’s great to see so many people (re)discovering colored pencils, and hopefully they’ll be inspired to take the next step to learn how to create their own original drawings and master the medium.  On the other hand, it’s also leading to an impression that colored pencils aren’t a fine art medium, they’re for very casual hobbyists.  And that’s an impression that the Colored Pencil Society of America has worked hard since 1990 to dispel, so it feels like a giant step backward.

Recently, Time magazine published an article “How coloring inside the lines came into fashion” which examined these impressions.  Today, I was glad to read the CPSA’s response to it.

I personally have been told “Oh, you should make a coloring book!” and I take that as a compliment about how interesting my subjects are and how easily they might translate into linear outlines.

But on a Facebook group for colored pencil artists I have read accounts of fellow artists being asked about their original work “What coloring book is this from?” and the questioner not being able to grasp that it was not from a coloring book.  I think if this was asked of me I’d have a hard time responding without curse words!  I can see how this confusion might arise, since some people who color in pages from a coloring book post them to social media with the idea that it’s now “art”.  It’s not.  There’s an important distinction: all art is artwork, but not all artwork is art.

The latest ridiculousness resulting from this fad is a report of a community college offering a five-day “Coloring Book Technique” workshop, for which people pay $130 and bring their own coloring books and colored pencils.  Really?  Since when do we have to be taught how to color in coloring books?  Every seven-year-old knows how to do this.

So on balance, although I recognize the value of adult coloring books as therapy and for relaxation, so far I’m not happy about what it’s doing for serious artists who work with colored pencil.  For any such artist, I recommend that if someone asks what kind of art you do, don’t say “I do colored pencil drawings” or they’ll likely assume you mean you color in coloring books.  Instead, try simply saying “I work mainly in colored pencil”.  The subtle difference in wording may trigger a better mental image.

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The back side of the same rack.

Making time to make art

As I’ve mentioned in at least one previous blog post, I work full-time as a software engineer in Silicon Valley but art is not my “hobby”–I consider it my other career.  I had to scale way back on some other time-consuming activities I enjoy in order to make this possible.  However, you don’t need to do this in order to make some time for art in your own life!  Here are a few suggestions I have for how to work art creation into your busy schedule.

  1. Set up a small area in your home as a dedicated “art space”, where your drawing board, chair and supplies are always ready.  They will be right there inviting you to sit down and play, and you won’t have to waste a single minute on setup or takedown.  This makes it so much easier to decide you have time!
  2. If you think you need at least three hours of uninterrupted time to merit starting, think again.  Sure, we’d all like to have that luxury, but you can make a lot of progress by accumulating much shorter time increments.  Maybe today all you have time to do is select and print out your reference(s).  Maybe tomorrow all you have time to do is cut the paper.  Maybe the day after that all you have time to do is draw the basic outline.  That’s all progress!
  3. If you’re tired or don’t feel like drawing, tell yourself “just 30 minutes”.
  4. Divide and conquer. Some people like to work all over an image as they go, developing it as a whole.  And that’s fine, but it makes for a long wait before you finally start to see the finish line.  Depending upon your temperament, you might lose patience or interest before you get far enough along to see it take shape.  So an alternative is to fully complete one small area at a time.  If your subject is a bunch of grapes, focus on just one or two grapes until they look finished (you can always come back later for finishing, unifying touches).
  5. Keep the colors you have used so far on a drawing out from the rest of the set until you’ve finished the drawing, so you don’t have to remember them to proceed with the next section.
  6. Only work on one drawing at a time.  This doesn’t apply to painters who must wait for hours or days for layers of paint to dry, but for dry media you’ll have more work to show sooner if you focus on one at a time.
  7. Have the references for your next few pieces queued up.  If you’re like me, it can take days to decide what to work on next–a big time suck!  By choosing in advance, you can launch right into the next one as soon as your finished with the previous one.  If you change your mind later, that’s fine, but at least you have a plan.
  8. Work small.  You’ll finish sooner by working smaller.  If you’re still learning techniques, you’ll learn more and faster by trying something small and moving on, rather than trying to struggle your way through a larger, long-term piece.  This is the philosophy behind the painting-a-day-for-30-days challenge.

I hope this helps you fit a little bit of art-making into your life!

Know what your framer is doing: a horror story

Here is a horror story worthy of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as told to me by the victim who lived it.

It took nearly a year for one of my CPSA chapter members to finish a drawing which she decided to enter in this year’s CPSA International Exhibition. (Her first time entering.) After spraying it with coats of workable Krylon fixative and final Lascaux fixative, she took it to a local privately-owned frame shop which was recommended by several artist friends. He told her he’s framed “thousands” of drawings, so she was sure it was in good hands.

For some reason, the framer chose to permanently heat-mount her drawing to foam board, as one might do with a photographic print. The heat reacted with the wax-based pigment, and possibly the layers of fixative. The drawing was covered with blisters which broke and flaked off!

But wait, there’s more! When he permanently adhered it to the foam board, he didn’t even use a large enough board to leave a margin around it for more flexible framing options–the board was the same size as the drawing.  And then he taped it to the back of a window mat, with the drawing barely covering the opening!

To top it all off, before she got to the shop to see this butchery, the framer took it on himself to “repair” a section of the drawing with oil pastels!  Oil pastels are not compatible with wax-based colored pencils, and of course nobody has any business “repairing” an artist’s work except the artist or a conservator (think of Smithsonian art restoration specialists).

Her artwork was completely destroyed. One has to wonder, WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

The framer apologized, didn’t charge her for framing, paid her the declared value of her drawing, and paid for her non-refundable CPSA IE entry fee (since she had already entered).

She brought the destroyed drawing to our CPSA chapter meeting to see if anyone had suggestions for how to save it. We were all aghast.  The best we could come up with was maybe solvent. The oil pastel probably already disqualified it for the IE anyway, but we suggested that if the piece is accepted she could relate the story to the national exhibitions director for a judgment call.

I think it’s important to share this story as a public service.  Make sure you know what your framer is doing.  Make sure you both agree on exactly what will be done with your artwork, before you leave your artwork in their hands.  Ask questions.  If he/she uses a term you don’t understand (e.g., “preservation fit”), don’t feel stupid, ASK.   It’s irrelevant whether you take your work to a large chain store like Aaron Brothers, or a privately-owned local shop that’s been in business for 30 years.

I’ve never felt the need to go over specs in great detail with my framers before, but after seeing and hearing this story directly from the victim, I certainly will from now on.

Is drawing harder than painting?

A friend sent me a great “meme” from Facebook (edited for language here):

Teachers: Drawing is really hard
Beginning artists: Drawing is really hard
Pro artists: Drawing is really hard
Famous artists: Drawing is really hard
Extremely famous artists: Drawing is really hard
Long gone, passed away artists who went down in history: Drawing is really  hard
People who are upset an artist won’t draw them for free: Drawing is easy!

This reminded me of a demo I recently attended by a painter, who candidly offered that the reason she paints is because she can’t draw.

And that, in turn, reminded me of the question I’ve been asked occasionally when exhibiting at a festival:  “When are you going to start painting?”  (I tell them that I’ve already done painting and had success with it but I like drawing better.)

I’ve known more than one person who signed up for an introductory painting class (independent of a program), then got frustrated when they realized they were struggling because they couldn’t draw, and instead of taking a step back and learning to draw, they gave up art altogether. They thought they should already be “past that” because they were painting, so if they couldn’t make their painting work it must be because painting is harder than drawing.  They believed that drawing skills are optional and painting is “real art”, and they wanted to do “real art”.

All this seems to add up to an observation: artists recognize that drawing is hard, while non-artists believe that drawing is the easy part, just a stepping stone toward the true goal of painting.

It’s true that drawing is a foundation skill for working in many media.  That’s why any core art program includes multiple drawing classes.  Any skilled realist painter first works out a composition, shapes and values with a set of sketches before translating the final idea to canvas.  And similarly for sculptors.  Even many artists who are famous for highly abstract imagery (e.g., Picasso) started their artistic journey by developing impressive realist drawing skills.

But does that mean that drawing is only a lesser skill in support of painting?  No!  It’s at least as hard as painting, and maybe even harder.

Although color mixing and blending with paint is challenging, paint is also very forgiving.  Not quite the right color?  Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again.  Mountain in the wrong place?  Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again.  Eye the wrong shape? Paint over it, or wipe it off and try again.

Drawing isn’t as forgiving.  Area too dark?  Mountain in the wrong place?  Eye the wrong shape?  Well, you can try to erase, but chances are it won’t erase completely enough to go unnoticed and you’ll damage the paper surface in the process.  Better to start the entire drawing over. Drawing is mark-making; each mark, whether light and delicate or dark and bold, must be  deliberate, with few “happy accidents”, because they’re hard to take back. Everything is planned in advance.  You can’t decide halfway through to change from realism to Impressionism or abstraction, and get away with it.

I’m not suggesting that artists who only draw (“drawers”, for lack of a better word), are “better” than painters, only that drawing as a skill and activity is as worthy as painting, and a finished drawing should be considered at the same level as a finished painting.  Thankfully, this seems to be the case among artists, exhibit jurors and curators.  (I’ve personally won Best in Show and Best Realism for graphite and colored pencil drawings in open-media juried shows.)  Educating the general public to see it this way is difficult.  How do we do that?  Well, now that you’ve read my thoughts on it, maybe you have some ideas….

 

What a year!

2015 is winding down, so it’s time to take a deep breath, relax, and review my art accomplishments for the year.

  • Had work accepted into 19 shows, including 15 juried, 2 invitationals, and 1 overseas (London)
  • Won 9 awards
    • 2 Honorable Mentions
    • 1 Award of Merit
    • 1 3rd Place
    • 1 2nd Place
    • 1 Runner-Up 2-D
    • 1 Best Realism
    • 1 1st Place
    • 1 Best in Show
  • Had a drawing published in a new book Strokes of Genius 7: Depth, Dimension and Space from North Light Books
  • Earned five-year merit award in the CPSA International Exhibition
  • Earned Silver signature status in the UKCPS International Exhibition
  • Taught 3 half-day workshops
  • Exhibited 2 full weekends in Silicon Valley Open Studios
  • Exhibited in 2 one-day outdoor festivals
  • Led a very successful forum for chapter presidents at the Colored Pencil Society of America convention in Atlanta
  • Demonstrated for 2 colored pencil manufacturers at events in San Jose, CA and Raleigh, NC
  • Gave a 90-minute presentation to a local art group
  • Finished 9 new drawings
  • Sold 4 original framed drawings
  • Led 4 CPSA chapter meetings plus organized related events
  • Re-elected president of my CPSA chapter
  • Almost turned a profit

Two of the awards came as big surprises….

In May, Cricket Time won 1st Place and $250 in the Pacific Art League Instructors Exhibition.  Many of the instructors at PAL have MFA degrees, a whole career of teaching and exhibition experience and a strong sense of their personal vision and style, so I don’t think I was the only one surprised that the juror, Anthony Meier of the esteemed Anthony Meier Gallery in San Francisco, chose my small colored pencil drawing for the top award.

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Cricket Time, 1st Place in Pacific Art League Instructors Exhibition

And in December, Clinging to the Edge won Best of Show and $500 in the Coastal Arts League’s 31st Annual Juried Show!  There were 200 entries, of which 55 were accepted, and I was fortunate to have two among those.  This show is all media–photography, oils, sculpture, fiber arts, you name it–and “best of” awards are given for photography, 2D, and 3D works, as well as overall Best of Show.  It’s pretty rare for a mere graphite drawing to win a juror’s attention and favor over great works in all these other media!  And the next day, I was notified that it sold.

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Clinging to the Edge, Best of Show in Coastal Arts League 31st Annual Juried Exhibition

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Best in Show in Coastal Arts League 31st Annual Juried Show!

In 2014 I exhibited in 8 shows and won 3 awards, so this year’s exhibition effort was quite a bit more ambitious than last year’s.  The bullet list above doesn’t even hint at the amount of time that was involved in putting together the CPSA forum, running and growing my CPSA chapter, helping organize the group sites for SVOS, and preparing artist packets for my workshops.  And considering I still work at a full-time day job, it’s a wonder I had time to create new art at all!

Am I satisfied with the outcome of 2015?  Yes!  Will I aim for even more in 2016?  Well, yes and no.

While I did manage to meet all my commitments and meet them well, the pace isn’t sustainable.  The last thing I want is to burn out.  I produced one less drawing this year than in 2014.  So I’ve resolved to not take on as much next year, so that I can devote more time to my art.  More drawing, less “other stuff”! The hard part is figuring out what to omit, since it’s all important for exposure and growing my art career.

I had a couple of goals for myself this year which I didn’t even get to, let alone attempt: to gain representation by a second gallery, and to gain skill with pastels.  I managed only two visits this year to the gallery which already represents me.  I need to do more with the one gallery before I can hope to keep a second one happy.

2016 will be a busy year, hopefully at a less hectic pace.  But first, I need a long winter’s nap and some long walks in nature to recharge.  Ahhhh….

M.C. Escher and Art of the Carolinas

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I’ve been a fan of M.C. Escher‘s work since I first discovered it in my early teens. Some magazine or other included Another World with an article, and I stared at it in wonderment for hours.  It was a couple more years before I learned the name of the artist, and longer still before I learned that I could buy a whole book of his art.  I ended up with several of these books; I didn’t mind duplicate images as long as there were also unique ones!  His imaginative worlds were amazing.  As a developing artist, I was also impressed with his precise details and perfect shading, and it inspired me to work on improving my own technique.  When I read that his visit to a place called the Alhambra in Granada, Spain inspired his exploration of patterns and tesselations, I resolved that if I ever made it to Spain, I would visit it, too.  And I did, but that’s another story….

Several months ago, I learned that a huge exhibit of Escher’s work was coming to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and nowhere else after.  It didn’t matter that it was 3,000 miles away–I was going!  I also found out about Art of the Carolinas, a big annual art materials trade show that includes over 100 workshops, hosted by Jerry’s Artarama.  What an opportunity–I could time my visit to attend both!  It got even better when I learned that Prismacolor is one of the annual vendors at AOC, and they were happy to schedule me to demo at their booth even for just one day.

So last weekend, I went!  My sister, who lives in St. Louis, flew out to meet up since she is also an Escher fan.  We spent almost 4.5 hours in the Escher exhibit and we were not disappointed!  It was huge, and included the original wood, metal and stone blocks from which he made some of his prints, old photos of him at work and at home, and even the original  man-bird statue featured in Another World and other works.  To think, I was looking directly at the very sculpture he often looked at! It was so exciting to be able to examine, as closely as I cared, the details and drawing techniques which aren’t visible in books: erased corrections, perspective guides, and faint graph paper lines were all there.  And I learned something new about his technique:  for some of his lithographs such as Castrovalva, instead of drawing the image on the stone, he first covered the stone completely with the black grease pencil and then scratched through it to produce the image, just as modern scratchboard artists do!

The same special-exhibit admission price included an exhibit of many original pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester–his handwritten study of hydraulic systems and waterways, part of an effort to reduce flooding for his sponsor city.  I thought this was an odd pairing, until I learned that Escher was inspired by da Vinci and had even read and quoted some of his writings.  These pages have passed through many hands over 500 years, and they are now on loan from Bill Gates.

Sorry I can’t show you any photos from inside either exhibit–no photography was allowed!

The next day when I arrived to demo at Art of the Carolinas, I was pleased that my Prismacolor “boss” had arranged for Jerry’s Artarama to set up a nice drawing table and stool at the booth, and Strathmore provided a tablet of their new Colored Pencil paper.  So I got right to work drawing a larger-than-life cherry.

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At first glance, it’s a very simple subject, but there’s actually a fair amount of complexity in it: colors, highlights, shadows, reflections.  I spent most of the day layering four colors, then used odorless mineral spirits to blend one side of the cherry and the Prismacolor colorless blender pencil to blend the other side, leaving an unblended strip down the middle so that folks could compare the results.

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I use this same image for my half-day workshops, so I knew I’d be able to work on it and carry on conversations at the same time. It turned out to be the right choice, because visitors interested in colored pencil in general and Prismacolors in particular were nearly non-stop from 9 AM to 5:30 PM.  The time flew by!  Getting to sit and draw all day while talking to folks about my favorite medium, demonstrating and offering tips for them to try, and getting paid for it to boot–what could be better?

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My sister had never seen me in “art mode” before so she stayed quite awhile to listen in and observe the goings-on and take these photos.

Other highlights of the weekend were a late-night Krispy Kreme run in a stretch limo (courtesy of Jerry’s Artarama), free wine, hors doeuvres and chatter at the Art Bar, being blown away by the large inventory of the Jerry’s Artarama store, dinner with my local friend and fellow CPSA member Linda Koffenberger, and feeding the ducks and beholding the dawn redwood at Duke Gardens in Durham.  Oh, and I also met the owner of Jerry’s Artarama and asked him to consider opening a store in San Jose!  He said that 50% of their online sales comes from the west coast, so here’s hoping….